Who doesn’t pat themselves on the back when Google puts money into their industry? Ah, the giant likes this market. I must be on the right track!
So what does it mean now that Google has announced it will retire its Google PowerMeter because it didn’t catch on? Are all those companies who are investing in smart grid on the wrong track?
Clearly not. Google had star quality in the market. But other, more boring companies continue to pursue tremendous smart energy innovation, and they do so with strong government backing.
The energy entrepreneurs are out of the barn, as they’ve never been before. Here are just a few intriguing advancements that made the news around the time Google said that it was quitting the race.
* Echo is a solar energy system that its makers say is three times more efficient than a basic solar electric photovoltaic system. Echo does this by capturing and using the excess heat generated by solar panels, giving the panels a dual purpose – they generate electricity and provide thermal energy. And there is more, according to C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes: “Echo not only sets the standard for energy generation, its advanced technology lets us communicate the benefits of solar to our homebuyers. When we show homebuyers that they can use their mobile phone to monitor their home – and act as a remote control for their thermostat – they don’t want to settle for anything else.”
* Intel is offering Tech Wonders, which features a free app that lets you donate to researchers your computer’s power when it’s idle. When you are away from your desk, your computer contributes its spare processing power to a massive environmental model intended to forecast climate conditions in the 21st century.
* The IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities helps cities anticipate problems, respond to crises, and better manage resources. The technology infuses digital intelligence into municipal operations through one central point of command. This can help cities make best use of various resources, including roads. Drivers get real-time traffic information across multiple areas so that they can choose the best route to travel and save gasoline. The IBM system also can help save energy in buildings. It integrates on a common network their heating, air conditioning, lighting, communications, security and maintenance systems. With the help of thousands of sensors, the system analyzes a building’s energy use and provides a real-time view of its performance, exposing its inefficiencies.
What’s the takeaway from Google’s departure from smart grid? Sure Google transformed the Internet with a phenomenal technology. But don’t expect dorm room kids to achieve the same with the very complicated North American electric grid. One killer app is unlikely. Instead it will probably be a myriad of technologies that upend the old way of using and generating power – created by a myriad of companies. And probably few, if any of them, will be flashy enough to have a company name that is also a verb. It will be the work of many that will get us all ‘smart gridding.’
Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.